new mom

What Does Being Pregnant Feel Like? Part III

Illustration: Beatrice, age 7

NEW MOM explores the brilliant, terrible, wonderful, confusing realities of first-time motherhood. It’s for anybody who wants to be a new mom, is a new mom, was a new mom, or wants really good reasons to never be a new mom. To get started, we asked five writers what it feels like to be pregnant. The third response, by the writer J. Courtney Sullivan, is below. Read the first two here and here, and check back for a new one each Wednesday of this month.

At first, I felt hungover at all times. Every night, I lay on the couch, exhausted, eating straight carbs and watching Shark Tank reruns. It was too early to share the news with loved ones, so I tided myself over by telling strangers — cab drivers and old ladies in line at the bank. I craved peach gummy candies from the gas station, and ate them by the bagful.

One day, I saw Barbara Corcoran, one of the stars of Shark Tank, in the street. After 15 years of living in New York without ever bothering a celebrity in public, I followed her, imagining that I’d tell her about my pregnancy. In the end, I said nothing.

I was four months along before I really believed it.

If I’m pregnant,” I’d say, and my husband would say, “You are.”

The saying goes You can’t be a little bit pregnant, but that’s not actually true. I had twice experienced the joy of a positive test, only to have the plus sign vanish a few days later.

I knew to expect morning sickness from every novel and television show ever written about a pregnant woman. When I didn’t have it, I felt a bit smug, thinking that was the worst that pregnancy could do. Then, five months in, I started waking in the middle of the night with terrible back pain. By 2 or 3 a.m., I’d admit I wasn’t going to sleep. I’d climb out of bed, and go read in the living room. My dog groaned, annoyed, but he always followed and kept me company, just as he’d later do at that same hour when I held a baby in my lap instead of a book.

As my pregnancy became more visible, New York City suddenly seemed like the friendliest place on earth. I always got a seat on the subway. Strangers smiled and made conversation, telling me it was obvious I was having a boy, asking how I was feeling. A saleswoman at the Estée Lauder counter at Bloomingdale’s scrunched up her face and shook her head when I told her my baby name. “Austin is a good, strong name,” she said. “Go with Austin.” She gave me many free samples, insisting that I come back with Austin after he was born to tell her how right she had been.

In my sixth month, our neighbor, a midwife, invited us over for tea. I fell hard for her wisdom, and entered full speed into my Ina May Gaskin phase. I began to wonder if I’d been wrong to want an epidural, and if the right choice, the feminist choice, was to believe in my body’s power. I watched The Business of Being Born. I called a woman who, for $300 dollars, would turn my placenta into capsules that warded off post-partum depression. I considered switching from a doctor to a midwife, but at the last minute, I reverted to my original plan, hoping to add a touch of the natural by hiring a doula.

“What are your wishes for the birth experience?” she asked.

My husband and I shrugged. “Just — get through it alive?”

Friends sent detailed spreadsheets on what to pack for the hospital and how to kill time while in labor. They told me what they registered for and I copied them. Even with an annotated list, I broke down crying. “What is a Keekaroo Peanut?” I shouted in despair, as my husband looked on, concerned.

I met three women who were due the same month I was, and we texted dozens of times a day, a habit that endures.

At eight months pregnant, I set off on a book tour, traveling all over the Northeast. I felt like a superhero, albeit one who couldn’t see her own toes.

Two days before I went into labor, I spent an unseasonably hot afternoon roaming around Central Park, making people nervous. A woman touched my arm and whispered, “Are you sure you should be out of the house?” I sat down on a bench. I stayed for hours, knowing that the ability to be totally unaccountable, unencumbered, was a gift, and that it wouldn’t be mine for long.

J. Courtney Sullivan is a novelist and author most recently of Saints for All Occasions.

What Does Being Pregnant Feel Like? Part III